In a stunning announcement, the Norwegian Nobel committee awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."  Several gasps were audible from the crowd in attendance.  Even the President and his staff were surprised, mainly because they did not know their boss had even been nominated.  Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the White House a little before six in the morning and woke up the President to tell him he had been awarded the prize. 

 

President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize saying the honor was a "call to action." Speaking in a White House Rose Garden ceremony he said, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership." The President admitted he was "surprised" and "humbled" by the committee's decision.

 

The honor bestowed upon Mr. Obama has critics asking just what did the President do to receive such an accolade?  The award has been given to such notables as Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, apartheid activist Bishop Desmond Tutu and the group Doctors Without Borders.  Leaders in Northern Ireland and the Middle East have received the award for peace in their respective regions.  President Obama was only in office 12 days before the nomination deadline. 

 

There are those who question the validity of the award process saying it leans towards liberals and their causes.  Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R) says that he's very happy the President received the award but republicans never "expect a conservative republican to be chosen."  Senator Hatch, appearing on Fox News Channel, cited former President Ronald Reagan who was ignored by the Nobel committee for his efforts to end the Cold War.  Former head of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev received the prize in 1990 for just that reason, but he did not share the award with anyone. 

 

White House officials disagree that this is a partisan prize.  Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in his daily briefing that people will see the award for what it really represents which is "renewed American leadership in order to make our country safer, and to live up to our own ideals and the ideals that many in the world want to live up to -- it's a good thing, it's an important thing.

 

The President has been lauded by democrats for reaching out to world leaders and pushing diplomacy with countries such as Iran and Syria that, previously, were deemed off limits.  Mr. Obama gave a speech to a muslim audience in Cairo this past June trying to heal a rift that some say were started by his predecessor.  The Obama administration took a jab Friday at the previous administration when State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters "from our standpoint...we think this gives us a sense of momentum, you know, when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes."  Crowley was referring to an incident when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad last year.

 

Mr. Obama becomes the fourth President to receive the honor, following in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.  He is expected to travel to Oslo, Norway in early December to receive his award in person.   The award comes with a purse of $1.4 million which White House officials say will be designated to several charitable groups.